2/15/2005

Update on Jeff Gannon/Jim Guckert

From Eric Boehlert of Salon:
There's new evidence that the Talon reporter, who lobbed softball questions at Bush during press conferences on behalf of a dubious news operation, recently worked as a male escort.
Gannon, whose real name is James Guckert, made headlines last week when he resigned from Talon after days of intensive scrutiny from bloggers. Online critics first raised questions about Guckert's questionable journalistic methods and his lack of experience (he often cut and pasted White House press releases into his "news" stories), as well as Talon's lack of independence from Eberle's purely partisan GOPUSA Web site. Then questions arose about why the Talon reporter was given access to the White House press room after being turned down for Capitol Hill press credentials. The final straw for Guckert came when bloggers revealed associations that Guckert and his Delaware-based company had with a handful of male escort services.
Guckert insisted his only involvement with the sex sites was as a software consultant. On Monday, John Aravosis posted on his liberal site AmericaBlog.org detailed evidence indicating that not only was Guckert personally involved with the Web sites, but he was also offering his own escort services. Aravosis received on-the-record confirmation, complete with invoices and photos, paid by Delaware's Bedrock Corp. AmericaBlog also details scores of other escort sites featuring photos and personal profiles of Guckert. Guckert's first site remained live until May 8, 2003, one month after he began covering the White House for Talon. According to Aravosis' research, Guckert's escort profile on WorkingBoys.net was still active as of Monday.
Addressing the question of why Guckert's personal life matters, Aravosis wrote, "This is the Conservative Republican Bush White House we're talking about. It's looking increasingly like they made a decision to allow a hooker to ask the President of the United States questions. They made a decision to give a man with an alias and no journalistic experience access to the West Wing of the White House on a 'daily basis.'"
Guckert's brand of openly partisan journalism was often suspect. Last February he reported that a former Kerry intern had taped an interview with "one of the major television networks" to discuss her affair with the senator, an assertion that was completely false. The intern never appeared on television and never claimed to have had an affair with Kerry. (Since quitting, all of Gannon's stories have been scrubbed from the Talon site.)
News of Guckert's past, or at least how he was able to land a coveted White House press pass without submitting himself to a full-scale FBI background check, will likely be addressed at Tuesday's meeting between leaders of the White House Correspondents Association and White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Most White House reporters obtain a permanent, or "hard," press pass only after passing an FBI background check, and only after first securing Capitol Hill credentials. Guckert was denied Hill credentials when the committee in charge of issuing them could not confirm Talon was a legitimate, independent news organization. Instead, Guckert, with the help of someone inside the White House press office, used a daily pass for nearly two years. Daily passes require only instant background checks, compared to the ones the FBI conducts for hard-pass applicants, which can take several months to complete.
According to Eberle, Guckert provided White House officials with his real name, which means they knew he was writing under a false one. White House officials refuse to discuss why they let Guckert in or what, if any, criteria they used to determine his qualifications.
Last week, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., requested from McClellan all documents related to Guckert's press passes. "As you may know, Mr. Guckert/Gannon was denied a Congressional press pass because he could not show that he wrote for a valid news organization. Given the fact that he was denied Congressional credentials, I seek your explanation of how Mr. Guckert/Gannon passed muster for White House press credentials," Lautenberg wrote. On Monday, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer noted, "This issue is important from an ethical as well as from a national security standpoint. It is hard to understand why a man with little real journalism experience was given a White House press corps credential."

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